A Brief History of Shaw University

A Brief History of Shaw University

August, 18, 2010 , by Ladye Jane

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Reading yesterday’s article on Forbes list of top schools made me think about how lucky we are to live in a state with so many exceptional higher education options. While there were a few Raleigh schools that did not appear on the list, there was one in particular that has made a large impact not only in our community, but in the country as a whole, and that’s Shaw University.


Henry Tupper, founder of Shaw University

Following the Civil War, former Union Army chaplain Dr. Henry Martin Tupper came to Raleigh seeking to reach the freedmen of the area. In addition to his regular ministry, he also wanted to create a school to train African-American church leaders. Tupper began holding theological classes on Dec.1, 1865, in the Eagle Hotel on Edenton Street. These classes paved the way for what is the current day Shaw University, making it the oldest African-American university in the South, and the third university to open in Raleigh.

Dr. Tupper used $500 he had saved while in the army to build a two-story wooden structure. The structure would serve as both a Baptist Church and as Tupper’s Raleigh Theological Institute. The new facility opened for its first official day of classes on October 15, 1866, a year after Tupper first arrived in Raleigh. In 1866, the university also began allowing women to take classes, making it the first to allow women in the South.


Estey Hall, first building specifically built for female African-American students

By 1870 the school had over 150 students and had outgrown the original building. After hearing about the school’s needs, Elijah Shaw of Massachusetts donated $8,000. The money was used to purchase land in the southeastern part Raleigh and construction began on new facilities. Shaw’s generous contributions led to the renaming of the school first as Shaw Collegiate Institute in 1872 and then later Shaw University in 1875. 


Leonard School of Medicine, first four-year medical school below Washington D.C. for African-Americans

Throughout its history, Shaw has continued to break ground for the advancement of equal rights education. The completion of Shaw’s Estey Hall in 1874 marked the first female dormitory on the campus of a co-ed school in the United States. Shaw’s Leonard School of Medicine, founded in 1885, was the first four-year medical school to train African-American doctors in the South.

Also, Ella Baker, Shaw’s valedictorian of 1927, returned to her alma mater in 1960 and founded the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). SNCC would go on to play a leading role in the Civil Rights Movement, and celebrated its 50th Anniversary this past April.


Female basketball team, 1916


Men’s basketball team, 1925


Shaw library worker, early 1900s

Images courtesy of Shaw University and the Raleigh City Museum








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Ella Baker Shaw University Henry Tupper SNCC

  • rl
    08/19 09:15 AM

    good article

  • Willie the Wino
    08/19 03:30 PM

    WSHA-FM 88.9 is the fienst radio station in town!

  • kwd
    08/21 08:36 PM

    good article, indeed.  agree, 88.9 is excellent radio station.

  • Ivory
    08/22 11:52 PM

    My father has been dept. chair at Shaw since ‘84. It’s sad to see how things have taken a turn for the worse at this historic university - chalk it up to poor management from the executive board.

  • WILLNCSU
    08/23 01:47 PM

    The best is on Saturdays when 88.9 plays Reggae/Dub/Dancehall.  I think its from 12-2pm.

  • sally
    08/23 03:59 PM

    Saturday is reggae followed by African followed by Latin Jazz. Then Sunday afternoon - The Blues is the blues is the blues. (I love that name for a show - and it’s great as the weekend is winding down!)

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